The best smart light bulbs represent a foundational piece of any connected home setup. Most options go well beyond simply turning on and off with a voice command. Many smart bulbs will let you control the color or temperature of the light, to swiftly switch from a romantic pink glow to neutral white and back again. Voice assistants can even control some models, so you can say, “Siri, make the lights green in the living room,” then sit back and watch the magic happen.
Most smart bulbs work just fine with existing fixtures, but you’ll want to choose the specific features that match your needs and space. With a huge assortment of smart lights on the market, that can be tricky. That’s where this list comes in.
How we selected the best smart light bulbs
To find the best smart light bulbs, we first eliminated any models that would require more than a simple turn of the wrist to install, which means screwing, mounting, or multi-step installation. However, we did include one option for a complete smart bulb starter kit that consists of a hub, just in case you want to get a jump start on upgrading all the bulbs in your home. We also ensured that each bulb we selected had basic smart capabilities such as timers, color adjustment, and on/off scheduling. From there, we looked at bulbs with voice-assistant capabilities, special features like music sync and away from home control, as well as the ability to group bulbs together for scenes and presets. The writers and editors at Popular Science have also tested some of the options in real-world settings.
Things to consider before buying a smart light bulb
Simply put, a smart light bulb relies on a built-in internet connection to communicate with an app or voice assistant to control its LED array. Choosing a smart light bulb shouldn’t be an arduous task, but the sheer number of options and the technical language describing each unit’s specifications can make shopping difficult. We’ll break down the features you should look for before purchasing and explain a few of the most common terms while we’re at it.
Efficiency, Wattage, and Lumens
A typical incandescent light bulb has roughly 1,200 hours of life in it, operates around 60 Watts, and costs approximately $1 per bulb on average. While 1,200 hours seems like a long time, smart LED bulbs blow them out of the water with a 25,000-hour lifespan on average, operating at just 10 Watts. LED bulbs do cost more, about $8 a bulb, however with more longevity and less power usage, you can save money in the long run.
When shopping for efficient smart bulbs, you’ll frequently come across the terms Lumens (LM) and Watts (W). As you can probably guess from the above description, Watts measures energy consumption, a unit of power. The higher the number, the more energy the bulb uses. For example, a 120W bulb uses exponentially more energy than a 10W bulb. Lumens describes the bulb’s brightness, just like Watts, the higher the number, the brighter the bulb. While Lumens and Watts measure different things, you can find a rough corollary between the two; in an incandescent bulb, 900LM typically requires 60W. In an LED / fluorescent bulb, 900LM requires just 15W of power.
New, smart light bulbs emphasize lumens and come with an updated label developed by the Federal Trade Commission, so if you’re shopping in person, you can compare the Brightness in Lumens, Estimated Yearly Energy Cost, Life Expectancy, Appearance, and Energy Used. Many packages still offer an equivalent brightness rating in watts to make the transition simpler for people who spent decades buying incandescent bulbs.
If you’ve ever grabbed a selection of new bulbs only to screw them in and realize they give off a bright white tone reminiscent of a DMV waiting area rather than a cozy, warm living room glow, then you know how important it is to select the right color or hue. While Lumens measure brightness, they don’t measure whiteness; for that, you’ll need to look at the bulbs Kelvin (k) rating. Kelvin describes color temperature; 1000k is a reddish glow, 1900k is similar to a candle burning, 2700k is a warm white glow, 4000k is a neutral white, and 5700k is a cool, bright white similar to direct sun. The Kelvin scale goes all the way up to 10000k, which is a white, almost blue color.
Beyond whiteness, many smart bulbs come with a host of other customizable color options that span the entirety of the rainbow. Some bulbs will quickly change via remote control, and others can be timed to change throughout the day; the possibilities are endless with literally millions of color options. Just keep in mind that oscillating color doesn’t always mean the bulb is capable of dimming, so just check the specs if you have a dimmer dial or switch attached to your fixture.
You can still flick smart light bulbs on and off with a switch, but their real draw comes from their connectivity with an app or voice assistant. Before buying, consider your dream light switching system and shop accordingly. If you’re hoping to use a voice assistant like Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, etc., make sure the bulb is compatible with your chosen platform. Similarly, if you want to control the bulb with your phone but don’t want to abandon a traditional switch completely, look for a bulb that comes with a wall-mounted button or think about purchasing an additional smart bulb dimmer. Keep in mind, you’ll only be able to control the bulb remotely if the light switch has been turned on; it needs continuous power to perform any of its tricks (including turning off and on).
Finally, many smart bulbs will require a special hub to enact voice-assistant control and additional features. Make sure you read the fine print if you’re thinking of purchasing to see what features are controlled directly from an app and what might need additional connectivity support.
Most smart light bulbs will come with an array of colored light to choose from, and all of them will have options for connectivity and control, but there are a few more unique features to be aware of.
Scheduling/timers will allow you to turn your lights on, off, or change color over a period of time or during a particular time of day. Some lights can even track when your phone leaves or returns home and turn off or on accordingly using location sensors and geofencing capabilities.
If you really want to go above and beyond with smart light bulb special features, look for a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi-capable model that will allow you to sync with the music playing from your phone or computer. Lights will flash in time with the beat creating the perfect atmosphere for a raucous party or setting the mood for a lo-fi study session.
The best smart light bulbs: Reviews & Recommendations
Best smart light bulbs overall: Philips Hue White and Color Starter Kit
Why it made the cut: This Philips Hue Starter Kit comes with everything you need to create a smart lighting system expandable to 50 bulbs making it the best smart light bulb overall.
- Brightness: 800 lumens
- Power usage: 9.5 Watts
- Color Temperature: 16 million colors including 6500K
- Lifetime: 25,000 hours
- Voice Activation
- Smart Button for additional control
- Schedule custom lighting presets
- Smart Button does not dim
Philips smart lights have been the standard in the segment for years. The system relies on a hardware hub that links up to 50 bulbs together. This starter kit includes that hub as well as three Hue White and Color smart light bulbs, and a Smart Button with mounting plates so you can still control your bulbs the old school way with a switch.
Each bulb is dimmable and customizable; choose from over 16 million color combinations and set up specific lighting scenes to set the ideal mood. You can also set up light schedules to support sleep, study, and wake-up times. The entire system takes commands from your phone using the Philips Hue App and Apple, Amazon, and Google voice assistants. Because the system connects to your home Wi-Fi, you don’t have to be home to adjust your lighting. You’ll have full control from miles away, a perfect way to “keep a light on” when you’re away for the holidays.
The Smart Button is a convenient way to switch the bulbs on and off without pulling out your phone. It comes with magnets, tape, and a wall bracket for easy attachment to almost any surface. It can also save and store up to five presets, so you can access custom creations with the literal push of a button.
Overall, this is a great place to get started with smart lighting, even if it is pricier than other options.
Best white smart light bulb: C by GE A19
Why it made the cut: GE’s basic, reliable bulbs provide a soft white dimmable glow perfect for any room of the home.
- Brightness: 760 lumens
- Power usage: 9.5 Watts
- Color Temperature: 2000 – 7000K
- Lifetime: Estimated 14 years
- Fits traditional sockets
- Can adjust many parameters without a hub
- Not immediately compatible with Homekit
- Need a hub from voice assistant and out-of-home control
The C by GE A19 Smart LED bulbs are an easy option for folks who want to upgrade their old-school incandescent lights. All you need to do is screw the smart bulb into just about any lamp, download the C by GE app, and you’ll be able to control the bulb’s brightness, schedule lights to turn off or on, and group additional bulbs together. You can even save preset scenes, which means programming the lights in your bedroom and bathroom to turn on together when you wake up every morning.
You’ll need to purchase a C by GE or Cync smart plug for additional control via Alexa and Google Home. You’ll also need this plug to adjust the bulbs when you’re away from home via the app, should you want to program a light to turn on and off while you’re on holiday. If you want to connect your GE smart bulbs to Apple’s HomeKit, you’ll need a C-Reach Smart Bridge.
Best smart light bulb for outside: Cree Lighting PAR38 Outdoor Smart Bulb
Why it made the cut: The Cree PAR38 bulb is the best option for a floodlight-style light that can withstand the elements while executing special features like voice control and color changes.
- Brightness: 1200 lumens
- Power usage: 120 Watts
- Color Temperature: 2200 – 6500K
- Lifetime: up to 50,000 hours
- Relatively inexpensive
- Super Bright
- Bluetooth control
- No hub needed
- Colors reduce brightness
- No Motion Detection
This is the best smart light bulb for outside to enhance safety and security outside the home. Suitable for illuminating driveways, back yards, front lawns, walkways, and porches, this bulb produces super bright yet tunable whites so you can see everything in your path or augment natural light as the sun changes color and position. Beyond white, it also offers millions of custom colors to create a more specific vibe. Control the unit via Bluetooth and Wifi via Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant without the need for an additional hub. The Cree app will let you automate the bulbs on a specific schedule and create timed triggers; while this light is particularly great for outdoor use, you can use them indoors, but you may find it overkill depending on the space.
Best smart light bulb for Siri: Yeelight A19 Smart Bulb
Why it made the cut: This bulb from Yeelight can connect to Siri using just the Yeelight app, and Apple HomeKit users can directly install the bulb using their Home app.
- Brightness: 800 lumens
- Power usage: 8.5 Watts
- Color Temperature: 1700-6500K
- Lifetime: up to 25,000 hours
- No hub needed
- Music mode
- Game Sync
- Requires a 2.4 GHz band from your router
- App doesn’t have two-factor authentication
The Yeelight smart bulb is jam-packed with special features, including quick connectivity with almost every available voice assistant: Siri, Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Samsung SmartThings. This bulb comes with all the usual bells and whistles, voice command control, dimmable, timers, and scheduling, but there are a few extra special features too.
Color Picker lets you scan just about any colorful object using your smartphone’s camera, matching the bulb to that object. Music mode enables you to sync the bulb to your favorite songs, flashing long to the beat. Game Sync will integrate with gaming systems, like the Razer Synapse 3, creating responsive lighting effects triggered by game events. There are also preset scenes that mimic the flickering of candlelight, dim for ideal movie screening washes, and establish the perfect cool tones for maximum productivity.
Just make sure your router has a 2.4 GHz band in addition to the 5 GHz band you may be using right now.
Best budget smart light bulb: Wyze Labs Smart Bulb
Why it made the cut: While the Wyze labs aren’t jam-packed with special features, you’ll be able to set up a complete smart system without breaking the bank.
- Brightness: 1100 lumens
- Power usage: 12 Watts
- Color Temperature: 1800-6500K
- Lifetime: up to 25,000 hours
- High maximum brightness
- Great temperature control
- Excellent color accuracy
- Lacks special features
- Voice assistant compatibility is limited
This two-pack from Wyze Labs is an excellent option for those looking for the best budget smart light bulbs. Like its contemporaries, this bulb has 16 million color options, but it also boasts a 90+ Color Rendering Index (CRI) rating, which means the bulb illuminates truer color tones, so you can tell the difference between black, navy, and dark green. You can also adjust the overall color temperature using the Wyze app, which displays a helpful temperature wheel to help you visualize the change you want to make. Custom lighting routines can help gently wake you up in the morning or lull you to sleep at night, while Vacation mode will make it look like someone’s home even when you’re away without any special attention paid on your part. These bulbs are compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, but miss some of the common systems like Apple’s HomeKit and Samsung SmartThings.
Q: Do smart bulbs use electricity when off?
Yes, smart bulbs do use electricity when they are off. They are referred to as vampire devices because there is still a steady course of electricity they feed off of, even in standby mode. This is because the bulb is controlled by your phone or remote, as opposed to a direct switch, and in order to respond to on / off commands, the unit will need to draw from an electric current. However, smart bulbs are energy efficient, so even though they need a steady source of electricity, a few bulbs will only cost you a few cents per billing cycle.
Q: Which smart light bulbs last the longest?
The smart bulbs that last the longest will have roughly a 25,000 – 50,000 hour lifespan, which is roughly equivalent to 18-28 years of normal use. There are more than a few models that will last this long, including the Philips Hue. Even the bulbs with a shorter lifespan still last 15,000, a substantial upgrade from the incandescent bulb’s 750 – 2,000 hour span. Of course, variables can come into play such as temperature and the condition of the electrical system in your home.
Q: Can you control smart bulbs away from home?
Yes, many smart light bulbs can be controlled when you’re away from home. Most units are operated via an app and additional hub, so as long as the Wi-Fi in your home is on and functional and you have access to the app itself, you shouldn’t have a problem controlling them remotely. Many apps will even let you go room by room, so you can turn the lights on in the living room without any changes in the bedroom. Some will also come with “Vacation Mode,” randomly toggling certain lights on and off to give the illusion that someone is home, deterring intruders.
Final thoughts on picking the best smart light bulbs
The best smart light bulbs will elevate your at-home lighting from mere on/off adjustments to custom lighting designed specifically for you. Before buying, check the bulb’s specs to ensure compatibility with your devices, including voice assistants, and check to see if you’ll need an additional hub for maximum control over special features. Smart bulbs are an easy, convenient way to have some fun while advancing the functionality of your lights.